Document Type



Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor's Name

Jacob Gewirtz

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Martha Pelaez-Nogueras

Third Advisor's Name

Michael R. Markham

Fourth Advisor's Name

Mary Levitt

Date of Defense



When infants confront darkness, a context many consider to be aversive and to elicit fear responses, their protests are often taken to denote fear of the dark. A functional analysis using the operant-learning paradigm was conducted of the role of contingent versus noncontingent maternal attention on protests when confronting darkness, in each of 10 human infants. In the laboratory, each mother served as interactor, her behaviors prompted by the experimenter. Identified were the controlling antecedents and consequences that shape and maintain infants' protests in darkness, and under an illuminated control condition. For every one of the 10 single-within subject designs, both in darkness and in the illuminated control context, the findings were that fear-denoting infant protests increased systematically under contingent maternal attention, and decreased systematically or did not change under attention contingent on alternative-to-protest responses. These findings broaden an understanding of the role maternal attention can play in infant learning and, particularly, in shaping fear-denoting protests in their infants confronting darkness (as well as illuminated settings) and, by implication, behaviors denoting others fears as well.





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